June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Music composed and produced by Michael Giacchino
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony
Orchestrated and conducted by Tim Simonec
Additional orchestrations by Peter Boyer, Harvey R. Cohen, Mark Gasbarro, Jack Hayes, Larry Kenton and Chris Tilton
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD6733)
Running Time: 65:00
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • The Best of Mission Impossible
  • Mission Impossible 2
  • Alias
  • I listened to this album under protest: no, I would not go and see the movie first, not after the excruciating waste of two hours that called itself M:i-2. I don’t remember anything at all about the music for that second picture, since I spent so much time in the cinema vacillating between feelings of disappointment and depression that I completely forgot to give Hans Zimmer’s music a chance on its own. I suspect I didn’t miss much, especially not in comparison with Danny Elfman’s great job on the first picture.

    Speaking of Zimmer: Michael Giacchino is a new-ish composer on the film music scene, and – amazingly – he’s not cloned from one of Zimmer’s toenail clippings swept up from the darkest, dankest recesses of the Media Ventures dungeon, a place where all hope of originality and independence must be abandoned. Giacchino is an actual person and most (if not all) of his music is actually written by him, not ghosted by a shadowy team of orchestrators, computers, and orchestration computer programs. He first came to the notice of soundtrack fans with his original music for the bestselling Medal of Honor game(s). His Hollywood breakthrough came with The Incredibles in 2004, for which he provided a brash, tongue-firmly-in-cheek score.

    Now Giacchino has cruised (forgive the pun) into the A-list with M:i:III. Thankfully, like Elfman before him, Giacchino pays proper homage to Lalo Schifrin’s indelible original theme and that ideal accompaniment to espionage, ‘The Plot’. Indeed, much of this score can be characterised as a theme-and-variations approach to Schifrin’s minimalist pieces. Try, for example, track 5 (‘Humpty Dumpty Sat On a Wall’), in which the shadow of Schifrin is ever-present but never quite stated in full as Giacchino builds his own orchestration around the original chord structure. He does the same thing throughout: another example, track 17 ‘The Chutist’, is built entirely upon that staccato ‘dum-dum, da-dum’ rhythm, but manages to sound like entirely new material.

    It’s an effective device and one that makes for a coherent work overall, never straying too far from the source material but working independently nonetheless. As expected there’s action aplenty, tautly scored with some fearsome modernist passages for brass sometimes reminiscent of Don Davis’s Matrix music (e.g. track 12, ‘Bridge Battle’). The whole is summed up in the closing cue, track 21 ‘Schifrin and Variations’.

    I have a nagging feeling, though, that Giacchino’s music is nothing like as exciting or original as it could be. I keep thinking of what David Arnold did to John Barry’s Bond music: Arnold modernised Barry, brought Bond into the Nineties (and now the Noughties); whereas Giacchino doesn’t really add anything exactly new to Schifrin’s Sixties jazz, however expertly he fleshes it out. That’s not to complain about the score so much as to observe that given perhaps more love for the material (as Arnold so obviously adores Barry’s music) the result might have been spectacular instead of just good.

    My other gripe here is the lack of anything resembling a genuine melody. Since Giacchino’s music clearly grows organically from Schifrin’s theme this is perhaps inevitable. After all, the Mission: Impossible theme itself, familiar though it is, can hardly be called a melody: it’s a motif, a snappy musical signature – ideal material as a foundation-stone for building musical variation, but not a tune that inspires flights of lyricism (contrast with Williams’s Harry Potter theme, a genuine melody, and what Patrick Doyle was able to do with that). Yes I am old-fashioned, yes I do recognise that film music cannot keep repeating the glories of Golden Age romanticism, but still my ear craves something more than well-constructed orchestral business. (Elliot Goldenthal, for example, can always produce ear-grabbing melodies even in the context of a fiercely modernist style.)

    Michael Giacchino is clearly a name to watch, but I’m still waiting to hear his own, distinctive musical voice: we recognise a Korngold, a Steiner, a Herrmann, a Bernstein, a Goldsmith, a Williams, a Horner, a Doyle, a Goldenthal etc. etc. by the stamp of their personality upon the music – and for me, that’s what makes film music really enjoyable: the recognisable sound of a composer’s voice adapting itself to new challenges. As yet I haven’t heard enough to identify a Giacchino. Hopefully I won’t need to wait much longer.

    Mark Walker

    Rating: 3

    Michael McLennan adds:-

    “To any who knows his work, this is no news: Michael Giacchino is a genius… What makes Michael Giacchino a genius is the fact that he is not just a composer, but a storyteller… While there are many talented composers who are able to elevate film – to help give sequences paces or fill deadly voids or work like emotional divining rods, tapping into and bringing to the fore feelings buried within the scenes – Michael is different… as concerned about character and motivation and structure and clarity as he is with orchestration, key or tempo… Michael’s natural sense of story is remarkable, his editorial skill is as impressive as I’ve ever seen, anywhere…”

    None of which helped the thoroughly mediocre film! In any case, I quote this excerpt from the lengthy love letter to his composer/editorial conscience/friend that J J Abrams substituted for insightful liner notes, because it’s possibly the worst example of liner notes love I’ve ever seen – where, regardless of the project, the music, the result, the musician is praised beyond all proportion. We’ve all seen Spielberg’s album notes about John Williams being the rare composer in film history who can combine quality music with insightful dramatic scoring (see the Amistad notes in particular). Ron Howard is another serial offender in his odes to James Horner. Yet if we’re to believe Abrams, Michael Giacchino might just prove to be the saviour of twenty-first century story-telling, already so broken and destitute that a Mission Impossible 3 was necessary.

    Now that I’ve dug my axe into the film, I really do enjoy what Giacchino has done here. The peak is the scoring of the film’s Vatican sequence, which comes closest to Danny Elfman’s immersion in Schifrin’s stylistics for Brian DePalma’s series-starter. It’s less playful than the Elfman score, but the rhythmic games in ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a Wall’ are still a great deal of fun, as are the following ‘Masking Agent’ and ‘Voice Capture’. (Listening to it makes clear why the Zimmer score for the John Woo-directed M:I2 felt off –everything was so emotionally intense for such a lightweight enterprise, including for the most part the score.) What also stands out in the Vatican sequence of the score is that this is about the only sequence in the film that is musically centred on Schifrin’s iconic theme, the full rendition emerging in ‘See you in the Sewer’. Giacchino’s re-orchestration of the classic tune for full orchestra feels a little ‘big’ (that string counter-melody in the opening track for example just clutters things up), but it works a lot better than the electric guitar version Zimmer placed liberally in the previous film.

    Elsewhere the feel is too heavy for the film’s lightweight kernel, and in context oversells the seriousness of the scenario even as the script is signposting its own clever post-modernity. Still it makes for some great album moments – Giacchino deftly working exciting ostinati into the brass and percussion of ‘Bridge Battle’, one of the film’s truly exciting set pieces. ‘Hunting for Jules’ draws on Williams and Goldsmith for a thrilling chase cue that makes you wish the scene deserved it more. ‘World’s Worst Last 4 Minutes to Live’ features some of that strong percussion viewers of LOST would be familiar with. Sometimes the orchestrations are a bit thick to fully discern the details in these heavier cues – this is no Firewall. Another thing to note is that these cues are all based around Giacchino’s own motifs – a theme for the IMF team, and an ostinato for their foe.

    What’s surprising through all this is how little of Schifrin’s material is included outside the Vatican sequence and the concluding ‘Schifrin and Variations’. (Thank the album programmer that put this demo in over the Kanye West travesty that parades over the film’s end credits.) ‘Factory Rescue’ interpolates Schifrin’s ‘The Plan’ nicely – mixing it with the new IMF team theme, but when you think of how organic that theme was to Elfman’s score ten years ago, it feels like token homage to the series, not the truly exciting immersion in Schifrin’s aesthetics I was hoping for from the composer of The Incredibles. (A score so rich in the way it drew on Barry, and to a lesser extent, Mancini.) It may feel very back-handed, but that’s a compliment – Giacchino has definitely made this score his own with his very identifiable style, I’m just not sure that’s what I was after.

    Nice as it sounds on its own, the softer dramatic material of ‘Ethan and Julia’ and ‘Reparations’ proved to be something of a misfire in the film. It elicits laughs in the cinema when the same sensitive piano and strings of LOST glide in over the associated scenes. Again this isn’t Giacchino’s fault so much. (The genius who decided it was a good idea break up an espionage thriller with melodramatic interludes for Tom Cruise and a suspiciously-Katie Holmes-like young bride would be that guy.) Elfman’s ‘Love Theme’ from Mission Impossible fitted into the tone of the rest of his score superbly because the script of that film made Ethan’s ‘love interest’ the core of the intrigue, possibly guilty. If the music here is syrupy and doesn’t fit the rest of the score, it’s got more to do with the fact that film is wildly inconsistent than anything else.

    As an album overall, the listener is likely to wear out before the music does. After the intense Germany setpieces, the Vatican sequence is a nice change of gear, but after ‘Bridge Battle’ it’s the end of the world in every track until the sensitive piano comes back again. Doug Adams’ argument about not scoring to underline the action in every action scene comes to mind in this album – it pushes the same buttons again and again with no true character scoring. (Not that there are any characters to score – the greatest deception of the film’s marketing.) That there’s so little suspense or intrigue scoring in this section of the album is indicative of the film’s problems – it has no patience for mystery, teasing out compelling revelations, etc. It means when I listen I tend to program the play-through straight from ‘Bridge Battle’ to ‘Hunting for Jules’ and then to ‘Schifrin and Variations’ (a great closer, and possibly a better opener than the actual opening track too – which is the film’s end credits).

    There’s some great music, and my rating of the album reflects that. Just it could have been better. I realize I’m blaming the composer above for the problems of the film, so it’s worth stressing that the music is very enjoyable, if a little overbearing at times. Perhaps, and I realize I dream here, the next film can be directed by Fernando Mereilles with a score by Alberto Iglesias. I can’t think of another composer more suited to adapting Schifrin than Iglesias. If The Constant Gardener, Talk to Her and All About my Mother are any indication, his eclectic ensemble choices and playful orchestrations would suit such a film very well.

    Michael McLennan


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